Great White Sharks could be taken off “protected species” list

Jul 14, 2017 by afdadmin
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By Ashley Boreckyi

Some troubling news has arisen out of Western Australia, with reports that the Great White Shark may be stripped of its protected status. The decision hinges on the findings of a new population survey commissioned by the government.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has charged the CSIRO with studying the shark’s population on the east coast to make an estimate of its population in WA waters.

This past weekend the Liberal Party’s federal council unanimously voted to recommend the government lift the protection of great whites, should the CSIRO’s findings prove the species is back in considerable numbers.

This is a huge potential blow for the ocean dwellers. It would mean fishing and culling of Great White Sharks would be legal again.

The move comes from reports of increasing shark attacks in WA waters, the latest being seventeen-year-old Laeticia Brouwer who died after sustaining injuries from a shark bite in April this year. Mr Frydenberg stated he “will leave no stone unturned to put human safety first.”

While a value cannot be put on human life,  a solution will not come from killing sharks. It is an unfortunate reality that historically, the way in which humans often deal with a perceived threat from the animal kingdom, is to hunt and destroy them. It seems absurd that a species which has finally increased its numbers to a level above being threatened, is a signal to the government to drive it below the line once more. Especially when removing an animal off of the protected species list should be cause for celebration, rather than an indication that animal can be hunted and killed.

Photo by Mary Evans

Sharks already face numerous threats from humans. Photo by Mary Evans

More than most animals, sharks tend to spark a fearful reaction. They can, of course pose a potential danger to humans. Yet they are also largely misunderstood. Sharks do not generally ‘hunt’ humans. The majority of attacks happen because people drift into shark territory, and the way sharks investigate new encounters is to take an exploratory bite.

Even disregarding the arguments that sharks as sentient beings have a right to life, and that we humans are entering their territory, allowing shark culling to resume would have other negative consequences. Sharks are apex predators and play a vital role in keeping our oceans in balance. When humans tamper with any part of the natural food chain, particularly species that are close to the top, it can lead to dire consequences. Reducing shark numbers in WA waters would mean any species below kept in check by shark’s feeding habits, could grow to unsustainable numbers, resulting over time in damaging the delicate ocean eco-system.

Photo by George T. Probst

Photo by George T. Probst

An ethical method of dealing with the so-called overpopulation issue would be to take the funds currently financing the CSIRO report and ‘shark mitigation strategies’ and put them towards building public awareness and education, safety initiatives, scientific research into shark behaviour, and other strategies. If the government funded intensive public awareness campaigns, along with education programs in schools with the aim of understanding the basics of shark behaviour and how to use the ocean safely, this would do much more for the great whites and the citizens of WA than the current proposal.

There is a myriad of alternatives that would also prove effective. Many underwater current and magnetic devices are in development that could potentially deter sharks away from swimmers and surfers. A program has also been developed on Twitter, where tagged sharks “tweet” their location as they swim past underwater detectors.

It is not just welfare groups and shark researchers that are opposed to the government’s proposal. The Australian public has a long-standing history of standing up to protect wildlife. For example, a recent poll found 80% of Australians are opposed to shark culling. Clearly, support for alternatives is strong and should be an incentive for officials to research other ways to keep both humans and great whites safe.

We share this planet with some magnificent land and sea creatures. Rather than resorting to drastic methods such as culling, it is time to foster respect and understanding for these important animals.

Photo by George T. Probst

Photo by George T. Probst